Writer Beware

When you market your short story, novel, or screenplay you may get rejected by agents, editors, and producers. This leaves some would-be authors in the position of wanting to have their work published so badly…they can make regrettable choices.

Enter the con artist.

They usually take the form of an agent who tells you that your work shows promise and they’ll read more (for a reading fee) or recommends that you send it to a particular book doctor (who they get kickbacks from).

There are as many variations to these scams as there are aspiring authors. As a general rule, however, in the publishing business the money always flows to the writer—not the other way around.

There are some legit expenses. Some agents charge for photocopying or long-distance calls, but anytime you are asked to pay for anything—warning bells should sound.

For an exhaustive study on these cons check out the Science Fiction Writer’s of America “Writer Beware” website. It’s free and makes for an interesting and educational read.

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The Pitch

A pitch is a quick one-line description of your story.

It’s one of the most overlooked facets of writing. Many people don’t worry about the pitch until after they’ve written their story.

That’s a mistake.

Your pitch not only helps sell your work, but it’s a key factor in determining if your idea is worth developing in the first place.

It serves three functions.
1. When an editor/publisher/producer asks what you’re working on you have an answer that makes them want to hear more. (Many times you only have one sentence, about ten seconds, to hook them.)
2. You can test your idea on a friend before you write a full novel/screenplay/etc. (If a pitch doesn’t grab someone’s interest, odds are another 100,000 words won’t help).
3. It focuses you on the most important aspects of your story.

The parameters of the ideal pitch are:
* 25 words or less (17 is ideal)
* explains who protagonist is
* makes protagonist sympathetic
* shows protagonist and antagonist relationship
* describes the task ahead (plot)
* gives the beginning, middle, and end
* describes the setting
* provokes a spine-tingling reaction

Now it is darn near impossible to nail all these things for every story…but you need to try (especially that last point).

Classic pitch mistakes:
1) You say your story is about saving the world; people want to hear about interesting characters.
2) You keep secrets (“…and then something fantastic happens that solves the mystery…but you’ll have to read my novel to find out”).
3) use of proper names

Here’s an example of a good pitch (thanks to best-selling author, John Sual)

“What if a small, elite mountain community covertly uses growth hormones on their prize high school football team and accidentally creates monsters?”

And for (A Game of Universe)

“What if an assassin from the far future is hired to find the Holy Grail–only to succeed he has to first regain his soul?”

These days I make sure I have the inklings of my pitch before I start the outline, and darn sure that the pitch is perfected before I market anything.

Sure there are great stories that defy the Pitch process, but for me, life is too short to spend a year writing something that has little chance to sell.

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